The above-the-fold article in yesterday’s York Sunday News caught me interest immediately — “Why Tom Wolf lost his home county.”
Wolf, of course, is Pennsylvania’s incoming governor; last month he defeated, quite handily, Tom Corbett. Corbett, a Republican, was, by any measure, a widely unpopular and ineffective governor, and Wolf ran on what I would characterize as essentially an “I’m not Tom Corbett” platform. He had a few other positions, like a progressive income tax, but “I’m not Corbett” was enough to get Wolf into the governor’s mansion, though I harbor doubts that he’ll have many legislative accomplishments in the next four years; he’s looking at a hostile legislature in solid Republican hands.
Wolf is also a native of York. From the Sunday News: “Despite losing across the state, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett got nearly 57 percent of the vote in York County to Wolf’s nearly 43 percent here.” Keith Gillespie, a local Republican state representative, was quoted: “It just goes to show how rock solid a lot of the Republican folks are.”
The Sunday News then devotes a page to charts and maps. Among the their takeaways — voter registration in York County strongly favors Republicans, Democratic gubernatorial candidates historically have not won York County since World War II (the last candidate to do so was Robert Casey in 1990, and then you have to go back to 1974 to find another), and turnout was down (which historically favors Republicans).
My takeaway is a bit different.
James Carville famously said of Pennsylvania (and I’m paraphrasing here) that the state is “Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Alabama in the middle.”
Carville’s right. I have lived most of my life south of the Mason-Dixon Line. I went to school in Richmond, I lived in Raleigh. York County, Pennsylvania is the most Southern place I have ever lived. When I lived in Richmond, I didn’t see Confederate battle flags like I do here. York County is part of Pennsylvania’s Alabama.
It’s not surprising to me that Wolf lost York County by fifteen points. He may be York’s native son, but he also ran on a liberal platform (the main point I remember was a progressive taxation plan) that’s simply culturally out-of-step here. A Democrat isn’t going to win statewide office in Albama; a Democrat isn’t going to win in Pennsylvania’s Alabama, either, native son or no.
This quote from the page of charts and tables was interesting and, in my opinion, validates my thinking: “The general rule of thumb for Democrats running statewide has been to shoot for about 40 percent of the vote in York County and rely on big margins in other areas of the state.”
The charts page also talks about voter registration, and it notes that as late at the 1950s York County was solidly Democratic. The registration advantage for the Democrats then began to bleed away and, by Reagan’s era, York County had become a Republican stronghold. The same pattern happened in the South; solidly Democratic states that began to trend Republican with the Civil Rights movement, and Reagan completed the transition in what were solidly Democratic areas to solidly Republican areas.
As I said, York County is the most Southern place I’ve ever lived.
That’s my takeaway. That’s why Tom Wolf lost York County.